Advice Goddess

By Amy Alkon

Q: You’ve answered some questions about online dating recently, but I haven’t seen you mention dating sites that do criminal background checks. Do you think it’s a smart idea to sign up for one of these, or is it just more marketing hogwash?—Wondering

A: There’s that very attractive man you see on a dating site who spends “a lot of time abroad”—as one must, when primarily employed as a drug mule.

These dating sites that do criminal background checks probably seem like a wise choice. And they do offer their members something extra: A false sense of security. First, as one of the sites with “extensive background checks” admits, “Some people do manage to slip through the cracks. When in doubt, report it!” Charming. Kind of like telling bank customers, “If you notice armed robbers in the bank, feel free to tackle them while yelling, ‘citizen’s arrest!’”

Of course safety is a primary concern, but ponder this: Your friends don’t background-check their party guests. Also, not every person with a criminal record is someone to avoid. There’s being arrested because your little brother left a pillowcase of weed in your trunk versus being nabbed for your armed carjacking hobby.

There are countless articles listing some pretty obvious ways to protect yourself: Drive your own car to the date; meet in a public place; don’t leave your drink unattended; don’t front anyone money; and tell someone where you’re going and whom you’re meeting.

One thing that you can do to protect yourself—in online dating or any dating scenario—is gag the voice that’s shouting, “Happily ever after, here we come!” so you can pay attention to feelings that something just doesn’t add up. These feelings often don’t come out of nowhere. Research by neuroscientist Yue-jia Luo, among others, finds that our brain reacts to subtle signs that we’re in danger—including ones we aren’t consciously aware of. The brain messages the body to get ready for “fight or flight,” adrenaline courses, blood gets pumped to our extremities and goosebumps form on our arms (part of the physical basis of feeling creeped out).

Online dating, like all dating, involves risk. Assess your level of risk and whether it’s worth the benefit—immediate access to numerous potential partners. There are some crafty criminals out there, but odds are, the problems you’ll experience will be the ordinary kind—finding out that a guy has a few girlfriends and not a few girlfriends out back under the tomatoes.

Q: I’m in recovery, and my best friend and I have sleepovers every few months. She’s come over drunk and/or high on pot the past few times. It’s not that it’s triggering for me; she’s just annoying and not herself when she’s loaded. How do I ask her to not come over trashed?—Sober